Winter break

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Three weeks of break after two months (and a bit) of the first term. On the last Friday before the break, we went on a class trip -- joint class trip between Jews in English-Speaking Lands and Metropolitan Life: Jews in the City; I'm doing both modules anyway -- to the East End, which used to be the Jewish settlement area from the late 19th century to the early 20th.

There was another visit on the same day, to see bits from the Cairo Geniza (which I'd wanted to see since forever!) at the British Library (which is normally very, very strict about everything, so this was a now-or-never chance, probably), but I had to make a difficult choice. Geniza manuscripts vs a guided tour of the East End. I'm only sitting in for the Survey of Jewish History and Culture class (under which the Geniza visit is organised), so I picked the East End.

I've never been to the London East End (Stepney, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, whereabouts) before. We met at the Liverpool Street Tube Station, began with the Kindertransport monument there, and walked our way to various other places.

Sandy's Row Synagogue. Nobody answered the door.

The anarchists (down the alleyway marked by the KFC sign next to the Whitechapel Gallery).
The Whitechapel Gallery is lovely, too, and free.

This used to be the Soup Kitchen (for  the Jewish Poor, like it says). 
Fortunately the front was preserved. Not many of the other Jewish buildings (shops, theatre, etc) remained in their original forms.

Fieldgate St. Great Synagogue. No one answered the bell here, too.

We also stopped by a beigel shop (which sold salt beef beigels that looked really good), but it wasn't a kosher place, so I didn't get anything. The next bakery we went to was,  though, so I bought two crodoughs -- custard and apple pie filling. I like food.

There were also several masjids in the area, and now the Benggalis seem to have taken over the East End -- many of the street signs had a Benggali version underneath them. Because it was a Friday morning, we walked past many Muslim men, women, and children on their way to the masjid. The sign on one of the police stations said "Banglatown". Big cities attract immigrants. Jews in the 1880s, Bangladeshis today.

On Saturday, I went to the Senate House and then SOAS to return a load of library books, and then popped in at the Brunei Gallery to see the Zoroastrian exhibition. I'd been meaning to go since I saw a poster for it at a Tube station about a month ago, and Dr. Damsa suggested that we have a look after we discussed Zoroastrianism in class. I didn't realise the religion is still alive...

Some stuff.

The Videvdad Sadeh, or 'Law against Demons" in Avestan script, copied in 1647.

A book. The History of the Chaldaick Philosophy, I think. Maybe.

The eternal (electric) flame.

Three class-less weeks! I miss going to uni, I miss the Tube ride from Royal Oak to Euston Square, but I still plenty of excuses to go to the libraries over the break...but now I have time for (not-in-the-syllabus) fiction, and for visits to various interesting places in London (the other half of my education).

May this break be a fruitful one!

Instant blogging

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The laziest form of blogging is to:

(1) sit at your desk
(2) take pictures of things you have within reach
(3) upload with minimal explanation about context.



 Picture 1:

This is half of the books I ordered from Amazon.
I'm still figuring out how to read all these in as little time as possible.
Yes I need to read them all.






 
Picture 2: The Kindle estimates how much time I'll take to finish a book based on (I'm assuming) how long I take to finish a Kindle page. Twelve hours.

Picture 3:...because I have 4661 more Kindle pages to go for this book. That equals around 274 real-book pages. 12 hours sounds reasonable, from a tonight-is-the-start-of-the-weekend-so-I-have-no-other-commitments-except-more-books point of view.
  
 Picture 4: Confession: sometimes, when I'm a biiit too lazy to look up a few things (okay, maybe not a few things, but a tangle of facts and issues) about a lecture I attended, I take the shortcut: e-mail the professor with a string of questions, then I get an appointment to see him/her, and I get an extra half-hour of a lecture, with printed supplementary materials :) So actually it's maybe not a shortcut because you're supposed to ask if you're not clear about anything, but the lecturers here are super kind, plus they know so much about their area of specialty, so studying with them is a great privilege and pleasure.

 Picture 5: Hebrew homework.

 Picture 6: Source-sifting for an essay. You don't have to finish reading this post, it's all boring pictures of words on paper.

Picture 7: Maybe it's less boring from this angle?

I still cannot find the words to describe London

2 comments
 Sementara itu, mari kita lihat pemandangan dari tingkap bilik:

 Rumah orang

 Pokok bunga orang

Tingkap rumah orang

Cerobong asap rumah orang

Di dalam bilik pula:

Tujuan hidup (di London)

Semoga blog post seterusnya lebih bermutu daripada yang ini.

What we choose, we must live with.

3 comments
This evening I withdrew my applications from King's and Manchester. Rather reluctantly I must say.

King's was the first to respond to my application. The MA convenor and admissions tutor Dr. Andrea Schatz said that after reading my personal statement, she "was happy to recommend you for an offer conditional on achieving the standard academic requirement (a GPA of 3.5 - it looks as if your results are going to be even better)." After seven years of building up this dream, that e-mail made me feel like my aspirations (LOL sorry I can't get used to this word, it's so propaganda-ish, like "transformation") are validated. Whenever I had time to kill in the UIA Library, I used to lean against the book cases in level 4 and flip through volume after volume of the Journal of Jewish Studies, of which Dr. Schatz is the book reviews editor. So imagine how I felt when this distinguished lady, whose name I often saw in the journals*, wrote to tell me that I have been accepted to join the MA programme that she is leading!

The University of Manchester's Centre for Jewish Studies, on the other hand, was the very first institution for Jewish Studies that I looked up after SPM, and when I received an e-mail last December (I was preparing for my final exams -- I opened my inbox to good news from King's and Manchester on the same night ^^) from their MA Admissions Officer, Dr. Peter Oakes, who wrote that "(your) application looks very strong and I have been very happy to recommend that we offer you a place (conditional on your good GPA being maintained in your overall result)". He then advised me to start prep reading on the subject since I'm an utter noob in Jewish Studies [Of course he didn't say it like that].

When I declined SOAS's offer sometime in April, it felt strangely like breaking away from tradition, (just) because a couple of my History lecturers in IIUM studied there.

Deciding between the offers was very hard. There was something that I really wanted from every university/course that offered me a place, because each one had their strengths. But I had to pick only one, and then declined the rest as soon as I could because those places could be offered to other applicants if I withdrew my application -- and since places for postgraduate studies are usually very limited, it wouldn't be fair for me to hold on to my offer for too long.

A few days ago, a current student of UCL's MA Jewish History** hello'ed me on Facebook, and from what she's been telling me about the course and department, I know that I've made the right decision. To think that I only applied to UCL just because!

Alhamdulillah 'ala kulli hal wa ni'mah. It hasn't been easy. But I chose to do this, so I must be prepared to face the consequences and challenges. I'm super grateful to have friends like Mizah, Azam and Adam (may all our dreams come true. If we do it right, maybe we can change the status quo someday).

Thank you, too, to my Darul Quran BFFs (Kak Fi, Iimaan, kak Seri, kak So, Mai, Ummu, Jiha, Auni, Zahidah, Kak Sarah, Rina, Wani, Khaulah, Farhana...and by extension: Aminah, kak Fiza Jalil, Najwa hahaha apesal tak senaraikan nama semua AQRAB je) for everything. Everything.

Yang benar,
Maryam Nabeelah
____________________

*along with Professor Sacha Stern, who is on UCL's Hebrew and Jewish Studies faculty woot! I can hardly wait to study ancient Jewish history/ancient Judaism with him.
** the course's full title is MA Language, Culture and History: Jewish Studies.

Make fried fruit pie now.

5 comments
No, I didn't forget that I have a blog.

Life has been as colourful as ever, but I don't know which colour to start with, so while I hem and haw about share-worthy things, I suggest you make some pies.

Why fried fruit pies?

  1. I love McDonald's pineapple pie. More than I like eating their hot fries with chocolate sundae.
  2. However, they stopped selling it sometime ago; then I stopped buying at McDonald's; and despite liking the convenience of fast food and pre-mixed, pre-everything anything, I actually avoid processed foods and junk edibles whenever I can (which may not be most of the time, but I try). 
  3. Which led me to Google "McDonald's Apple Pie recipe". Two years later, I'm still using the recipe, and I make it quite regularly (whenever I feel up to a bit of rolling and filling pastry cases).
  4. It's my favourite driving snack. Of course I have to blog about it.

Before I found this recipe for the McDonald's pie pastry -- which is all over the internet BTW--, I tried another recipe for hand pies. It promised a flaky and scrumptious pastry, but was a pain to make. Anything that involves chilling butter and dough after each roll and step will of course be a pain if you live in tropical rainforest climate. Touch the pastry a few times, and it softens most exasperatingly. Besides, the recipe was meant for baked, not fried pies.

This recipe (shown below), on the other hand, is almost ridiculously simple to make that I couldn't believe the results. It really does taste like McDonald's pie. No chilling involved.



You will need:

For the filling

  1. Pineapple, one medium.
    I used two Morris pineapples (for a double batch), but if you use nanas madu (the marvelous orange one pictured in the header), you will get slightly less flesh since the fruit is smaller (but definitely sweeter much more flavourful).
  2. Sugar, as little or as much as you please. Start with 1/3 cup maybe?
  3. Cornstarch, 1-2 tablespoons. 
Of course, you can also make apple pies. Change the fruit and quantity, add ground cinnamon and maybe lemon juice.
For the pastry (makes 10 to 11 RM1-note-sized pies):

  1. 2 cups plain flour
  2. 1 teaspoon salt, because pairing the sweet and tangy filling with the pastry's saltiness is what makes fried fruit pie so yum. Do not skip the salt.
  3. 1/2 cup shortening.
    I don't know which one puts me off more, butter or shortening. But shortening is the secret ingredient here: it is what makes the pastry flaky, easy to handle and just right for frying. (Substitute with butter if you want to use this recipe for baking). However, I always use half butter and half shortening for this pastry -- because shortening, for me, is not food, so I try to substitute it with something else whenever possible (a lot of American recipes, for instance, use shortening for deep frying. *Wrinkles nose*).
    I don't like the taste of butter, plus it's animal fat (Biology ruined a lot of food for me); but shortening, while being vegetable-based, is also solid fat, and is flavourless to boot, which does nothing to mask its raison d'être: to be a type of edible solid fat. At least butter has that distinctive taste that people glorify so often (and which I dislike because it's so dairy).
    So I compromise (or so I convince myself) by using half this and half that. The pastry will be much easier to handle if you use all shortening, though, since shortening stays solid at room temperature, and butter does not, especially in Malaysian room temperature.
    Short story: if you have no issues with shortening, use shortening only.
  4. 1/2 cup cold water.
    The colder the better. I usually put a container of water in the freezer and let it frost for a bit before using. Or just use iced water.
Sorry. I can't list down four ingredients without including some food drama.
Here are the ingredients lists again:

Filling:

  1. One pineapple
  2. Sugar, at least 1/3 cup, increase to taste
  3. Cornstarch, 1-2 tablespoons
Pastry:

  1. 2 cups plain flour
  2. 1 teaspoon salt
  3. 1/2 cup shortening
  4. 1/2 cup very cold water
How to make the filling

Basically, what you do here is simmer the fruit with some sugar, thicken it with cornstarch, et voilà (ay vwah-la)! You have pie filling.

But what's the use of having a blog if I only use one sentence to tell you how to make pie filling?

Hence the process shots.

(1) Peel the pineapple and remove the "eyes". Cut into small pieces. I like my pies to be rather small*, so to avoid any awkward chunks poking from underneath the pastry, make sure the fruit is cut really small, maybe into 1/2 inch cubes. Plus, you can fit in more fruit into the pastry cases if the filling is not overly chunky.


*sometimes I make them shaped like circular curry puffs, that's how small. But mostly I make them rectangular, because I don't want pineapple pies to look like curry puffs, you know? They're supposed to look like the McDonald's ones, not just taste like them.


(2) Dump the fruit into a saucepan and cook it over medium heat until the juice is drawn out (3).
The fruit will shrink as it simmers.

(4) Add sugar and simmer some more, until the liquid is syrupy and the pineapple turns a brighter yellow.


(5) Add cornstarch. Pictured above is the dumb way to add cornstarch. Do not be lazy and heap cornstarch onto the cooking mixture, like I did (I don't know what made me think I could get away with it this time. I had to fish out tiny lumps of cornstarch out of the filling and add more cornstarch properly after that. Probably it was the pressure of having to snap photos of food -- with my mother's phone, because that was the only camera available in the house then -- after every step. I don't know how food bloggers do it. Wipe hands, click click. Stir food, crack egg, wash hands and wipe, click click. Hurriedly puts down the camera so that food does not burn. Deliberately forgets to dilute cornstarch before adding into food. Click click anyway).

What you should do instead is: dilute cornflour in some water, and add that mixture to the fruit. Easy! Sorry there's no picture of me stirring cornflour with water.

(6) Stir until thickened and the liquid is transparent, and the filling is all gooey. If you like more goo, add more water and sugar after adding the cornflour (because you can't be certain just how liquidy the filling will be until the cornflour has thickened).

Cool the filling for a while. To make the pie-making process easier, half-freeze the filling before using, so that the liquid doesn't flow all over the pastry and make sealing the pies a major annoyance. I find it best to freeze the filling when it is still very warm, so the liquid will form fine crystals and become a half-solid slush, perfect for pie-filling, instead of freezing into a huge pineapple iceberg.

How to make the pastry


(1) Salt the flour and give it a good stir.

(2) Add shortening (and butter, if using).


(3) Cut the fat into the flour. I used a pastry cutter (that steel wire contraption in the photos), but before we had one, I used to cut pastry mixes using a knife and a fork.

(4) Keep cutting in the fat until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (5).
For a closer look, click on the images.


(6) and (7) Add cold water and stir the dough.

 
(8) Stir mixture until the dough comes together.

(9)  Knead the dough for just a bit so that the dough forms a rough ball that does not stick to the bowl (10). "Kneading" here simply means pressing the dough with your hands until it loses that shaggy look.


(11) Take out your beautifully half-frozen filling.


(12) Roll out the dough until it's about 1/4 inch-thick. It should be slightly thicker than a karipap case. 
Or roll it to whatever thickness you want, it's your pie.

(13) Cut into rectangles. Again, the size is up to you, but I made pies a sound the size of a RM1 note, so I cut out rectangles that were double the size of a note, because we'll be folding the case in half to enclose the filling:


(14) Dump some filling onto half of the rectangles, taking care not to hit the edges. Sugary liquid will make sealing difficult, so stay clear of the edges.

(15) Slightly wet the edges using a fork dipped in water. Don't drench it, just dab some water so that the pastry edges will be glued together when you seal it.

(16) Bring over the unfilled pastry half to the other to enclose, then gently press the edges to seal. Use the tines or a fork to press the sides and seal it properly. You can now fry the pies, or freeze them for later use. I always freeze them because how many fried fruit pies can you eat in one sitting?


(17) I double-bag and label the pies before freezing.

(18) This is what frozen fruit pie looks like. If you freeze the pies, thaw them out before frying. Don't take them out of the freezer bags before thawing, or else condensation will appear on the pies, and that makes them soggy. Thaw them in the bags, and the water droplets will condense on the plastic bag surface instead.


The fried pineapple pie:
fried, arranged, photographed, Photoshopped.


Look at that flakiness! 
This is like puff pastry without the endless folding, chilling and rolling.
(Now I just need a good Prosperity Burger knockoff recipe. 
How do they make the burger patties so tender?)

And Oxford said No

2 comments
So Oxford rejected my application. The letter came through my e-mail last night.

Alhamdulillah, I am not at all disappointed. In fact I'm glad that they're letting me know about the outcome this soon so I can eliminate one possibility from Plan Land and move on with other options.

I'm still a pragmatic ray of sunshine, thank you Allah!

Here's how an Oxford rejection letter looks like. Rather like a sample letter for one of those Language for Occupational Purposes (LOP) exercises:


I'm raring to write more but I think I'd like to sleep first. Last night modern Southeast Asia kept me away from Dreamland.

As always, make du'a for me o readers of firm faith!

(a) Studying history in UIA, and (b) would you like to see my exam questions?

3 comments

Exams

I like exams. They make me think about questions that I usually have asked myself at some point or other.

Or, if I haven't, seeing "new" questions when I flip the question paper to the right side [when the Chief Invigilator announces, "You may begin writing"] will put my brain into a happy, excited "ooh I've never thought of that!" frenzy and I honestly enjoy myself when that happens. If you feel the same way about exams, we can be friends.

In other words, exams are a very real self-development tool for me. Or, I just like them. Okay?

Exams also force me to give solid answers to those questions in 2 hours -- which is not a problem if only I don't have to write down those answers.

What I do

When I tell people I'm a history student, one of the FAQs I get is: "So what do you learn?"

The next question will almost always be, "So does that mean you study Islamic history?"

Yes, Islamic history is a major part of our studies, but it doesn't end there. The truth is, like in any other university, the History & Civilization department of UIA offers courses based on who's available to teach. Some lecturers specialize in Southeast Asian history, some in contemporary Middle East studies, some in archeology (and ancient history), some in Islamic history, some in the Medieval period, and others in Sub-Saharan Africa...or some other region or period, you get my drift.

However, after three-and-a-half years here, I feel/have come to the conclusion that our history courses are very Ummah-centric. There is a lot of focus on the Islamic civilization and the Muslim ummah -- I'll blog about this another time inshaAllah. Or else this post will go on and on and on -- and I think that's the way that it should be, since we're UIA, and the "Islamic worldview" is what UIA offers across all its courses, and is what makes it different from other universities.

We learn Islamic history in its many phases (Rise and Spread of Islam until 132 AH, Abbasid History, Osmanli History, Ayyubids and Mamluks, Muslim Nations in Contemporary History -- and these are just the basics), and then we study the Islamic civilization -- our degree is about History AND civilization, remember? -- but sometimes I still forget the year the Umayyads fell to the Abbasids. And when I do recall a  date (750), I forget whether it's AH or CE, only to remember moments later that 750 CE doesn't make sense [so I'm not totally hopeless Dieu merci!]. And I still can't remember who succeeded who (was it Al-Amin or Al-Ma'mun after Harun Al-Rashid?) and I'm not particularly keen on the battles, even the major ones. *History Student Problems*

Lesson #1 from my degree: I still have A LOT to learn OR what I studied in my undergraduate years was nothing so let's just get to the specialization part where I can re-discover how frightfully inadequate and ignorant I am in just one, tiny branch of historical studies (instead of undergrad study, which reminds me daily how frightfully inadequate and ignorant I am in everything else in history, too).

Questions! *rubbing hands in glee*

So to illustrate (a fraction of) what we study, here's a list of the questions I've had to answer in the five papers I've sat for so far (two more, then game over!):

  1. Discuss the short-term and long-term causes of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
  2. Describe the role of two major Zionist lobbies in influencing the US policy towards Israel.
  3. "The coverage of Islam in the Western media has been inundated with stereotypes. These stereotypes are repugnant to reason and justice" (Merican, 2005, p. 117). Comment on this statement with especial reference to the role of a prominent Islamophobe.
  4. Who was Snouck Hurgronje? Discuss his role in the formulation of Dutch policy on Islam in the Netherland East Indies.
  5. Analyze the factors that gave rise to the Islamic resurgence in Malaysia in the 1980s and its consequences.
  6. Assess the development of science and technology in the early Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations.
  7. Discuss the legacy of prophets in Hebrew history.
  8. How did the Islamic civilization integrate various nations and tribes?
  9. Analyze the impact of Islamic civilization on the West.
  10. Discuss the role of Muhtasib in shaping Muslim society.
  11. Write notes on the following: (i) The concept of Khilafah (ii) The concept of Shura (iii) Al-Jizyah (iv) Kufic and Cursive scripts (v) The role of Mutawwifun in hajj (vi) Pesantren al-Zaytun (vii) Persatuan Ulama Seluruh Aceh (PUSA) (viii) Tengku Mahmud Mahyiddeen (ix) Tripoli Agreement [1976] (x) The Mujahidin Revolt in Arakan [1948-54]
  12. Discuss the role of the Tecumseh Confederacy (1811-1813) in the British-American War.
  13. Evaluate Thomas Jefferson's views on slavery, religion and politics.
  14. Describe the role of the Confederate Guerrilla during the American Civil War.
(Gotta love the mental time traveling and globe-trotting we do while learning history!)

For me, these questions resemble the questions people ask me about history and issues related to history. They remind me why I'm here in the first place: to understand today through the past (also, to study a field that necessitates the knowledge of multiple languages).

How is that not relevant to my personal and social (if not intellectual) life?

I love exams, I do.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter break

Three weeks of break after two months (and a bit) of the first term. On the last Friday before the break, we went on a class trip -- joint class trip between Jews in English-Speaking Lands and Metropolitan Life: Jews in the City; I'm doing both modules anyway -- to the East End, which used to be the Jewish settlement area from the late 19th century to the early 20th.

There was another visit on the same day, to see bits from the Cairo Geniza (which I'd wanted to see since forever!) at the British Library (which is normally very, very strict about everything, so this was a now-or-never chance, probably), but I had to make a difficult choice. Geniza manuscripts vs a guided tour of the East End. I'm only sitting in for the Survey of Jewish History and Culture class (under which the Geniza visit is organised), so I picked the East End.

I've never been to the London East End (Stepney, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, whereabouts) before. We met at the Liverpool Street Tube Station, began with the Kindertransport monument there, and walked our way to various other places.

Sandy's Row Synagogue. Nobody answered the door.

The anarchists (down the alleyway marked by the KFC sign next to the Whitechapel Gallery).
The Whitechapel Gallery is lovely, too, and free.

This used to be the Soup Kitchen (for  the Jewish Poor, like it says). 
Fortunately the front was preserved. Not many of the other Jewish buildings (shops, theatre, etc) remained in their original forms.

Fieldgate St. Great Synagogue. No one answered the bell here, too.

We also stopped by a beigel shop (which sold salt beef beigels that looked really good), but it wasn't a kosher place, so I didn't get anything. The next bakery we went to was,  though, so I bought two crodoughs -- custard and apple pie filling. I like food.

There were also several masjids in the area, and now the Benggalis seem to have taken over the East End -- many of the street signs had a Benggali version underneath them. Because it was a Friday morning, we walked past many Muslim men, women, and children on their way to the masjid. The sign on one of the police stations said "Banglatown". Big cities attract immigrants. Jews in the 1880s, Bangladeshis today.

On Saturday, I went to the Senate House and then SOAS to return a load of library books, and then popped in at the Brunei Gallery to see the Zoroastrian exhibition. I'd been meaning to go since I saw a poster for it at a Tube station about a month ago, and Dr. Damsa suggested that we have a look after we discussed Zoroastrianism in class. I didn't realise the religion is still alive...

Some stuff.

The Videvdad Sadeh, or 'Law against Demons" in Avestan script, copied in 1647.

A book. The History of the Chaldaick Philosophy, I think. Maybe.

The eternal (electric) flame.

Three class-less weeks! I miss going to uni, I miss the Tube ride from Royal Oak to Euston Square, but I still plenty of excuses to go to the libraries over the break...but now I have time for (not-in-the-syllabus) fiction, and for visits to various interesting places in London (the other half of my education).

May this break be a fruitful one!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Instant blogging




The laziest form of blogging is to:

(1) sit at your desk
(2) take pictures of things you have within reach
(3) upload with minimal explanation about context.



 Picture 1:

This is half of the books I ordered from Amazon.
I'm still figuring out how to read all these in as little time as possible.
Yes I need to read them all.






 
Picture 2: The Kindle estimates how much time I'll take to finish a book based on (I'm assuming) how long I take to finish a Kindle page. Twelve hours.

Picture 3:...because I have 4661 more Kindle pages to go for this book. That equals around 274 real-book pages. 12 hours sounds reasonable, from a tonight-is-the-start-of-the-weekend-so-I-have-no-other-commitments-except-more-books point of view.
  
 Picture 4: Confession: sometimes, when I'm a biiit too lazy to look up a few things (okay, maybe not a few things, but a tangle of facts and issues) about a lecture I attended, I take the shortcut: e-mail the professor with a string of questions, then I get an appointment to see him/her, and I get an extra half-hour of a lecture, with printed supplementary materials :) So actually it's maybe not a shortcut because you're supposed to ask if you're not clear about anything, but the lecturers here are super kind, plus they know so much about their area of specialty, so studying with them is a great privilege and pleasure.

 Picture 5: Hebrew homework.

 Picture 6: Source-sifting for an essay. You don't have to finish reading this post, it's all boring pictures of words on paper.

Picture 7: Maybe it's less boring from this angle?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I still cannot find the words to describe London

 Sementara itu, mari kita lihat pemandangan dari tingkap bilik:

 Rumah orang

 Pokok bunga orang

Tingkap rumah orang

Cerobong asap rumah orang

Di dalam bilik pula:

Tujuan hidup (di London)

Semoga blog post seterusnya lebih bermutu daripada yang ini.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What we choose, we must live with.

This evening I withdrew my applications from King's and Manchester. Rather reluctantly I must say.

King's was the first to respond to my application. The MA convenor and admissions tutor Dr. Andrea Schatz said that after reading my personal statement, she "was happy to recommend you for an offer conditional on achieving the standard academic requirement (a GPA of 3.5 - it looks as if your results are going to be even better)." After seven years of building up this dream, that e-mail made me feel like my aspirations (LOL sorry I can't get used to this word, it's so propaganda-ish, like "transformation") are validated. Whenever I had time to kill in the UIA Library, I used to lean against the book cases in level 4 and flip through volume after volume of the Journal of Jewish Studies, of which Dr. Schatz is the book reviews editor. So imagine how I felt when this distinguished lady, whose name I often saw in the journals*, wrote to tell me that I have been accepted to join the MA programme that she is leading!

The University of Manchester's Centre for Jewish Studies, on the other hand, was the very first institution for Jewish Studies that I looked up after SPM, and when I received an e-mail last December (I was preparing for my final exams -- I opened my inbox to good news from King's and Manchester on the same night ^^) from their MA Admissions Officer, Dr. Peter Oakes, who wrote that "(your) application looks very strong and I have been very happy to recommend that we offer you a place (conditional on your good GPA being maintained in your overall result)". He then advised me to start prep reading on the subject since I'm an utter noob in Jewish Studies [Of course he didn't say it like that].

When I declined SOAS's offer sometime in April, it felt strangely like breaking away from tradition, (just) because a couple of my History lecturers in IIUM studied there.

Deciding between the offers was very hard. There was something that I really wanted from every university/course that offered me a place, because each one had their strengths. But I had to pick only one, and then declined the rest as soon as I could because those places could be offered to other applicants if I withdrew my application -- and since places for postgraduate studies are usually very limited, it wouldn't be fair for me to hold on to my offer for too long.

A few days ago, a current student of UCL's MA Jewish History** hello'ed me on Facebook, and from what she's been telling me about the course and department, I know that I've made the right decision. To think that I only applied to UCL just because!

Alhamdulillah 'ala kulli hal wa ni'mah. It hasn't been easy. But I chose to do this, so I must be prepared to face the consequences and challenges. I'm super grateful to have friends like Mizah, Azam and Adam (may all our dreams come true. If we do it right, maybe we can change the status quo someday).

Thank you, too, to my Darul Quran BFFs (Kak Fi, Iimaan, kak Seri, kak So, Mai, Ummu, Jiha, Auni, Zahidah, Kak Sarah, Rina, Wani, Khaulah, Farhana...and by extension: Aminah, kak Fiza Jalil, Najwa hahaha apesal tak senaraikan nama semua AQRAB je) for everything. Everything.

Yang benar,
Maryam Nabeelah
____________________

*along with Professor Sacha Stern, who is on UCL's Hebrew and Jewish Studies faculty woot! I can hardly wait to study ancient Jewish history/ancient Judaism with him.
** the course's full title is MA Language, Culture and History: Jewish Studies.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Make fried fruit pie now.

No, I didn't forget that I have a blog.

Life has been as colourful as ever, but I don't know which colour to start with, so while I hem and haw about share-worthy things, I suggest you make some pies.

Why fried fruit pies?

  1. I love McDonald's pineapple pie. More than I like eating their hot fries with chocolate sundae.
  2. However, they stopped selling it sometime ago; then I stopped buying at McDonald's; and despite liking the convenience of fast food and pre-mixed, pre-everything anything, I actually avoid processed foods and junk edibles whenever I can (which may not be most of the time, but I try). 
  3. Which led me to Google "McDonald's Apple Pie recipe". Two years later, I'm still using the recipe, and I make it quite regularly (whenever I feel up to a bit of rolling and filling pastry cases).
  4. It's my favourite driving snack. Of course I have to blog about it.

Before I found this recipe for the McDonald's pie pastry -- which is all over the internet BTW--, I tried another recipe for hand pies. It promised a flaky and scrumptious pastry, but was a pain to make. Anything that involves chilling butter and dough after each roll and step will of course be a pain if you live in tropical rainforest climate. Touch the pastry a few times, and it softens most exasperatingly. Besides, the recipe was meant for baked, not fried pies.

This recipe (shown below), on the other hand, is almost ridiculously simple to make that I couldn't believe the results. It really does taste like McDonald's pie. No chilling involved.



You will need:

For the filling

  1. Pineapple, one medium.
    I used two Morris pineapples (for a double batch), but if you use nanas madu (the marvelous orange one pictured in the header), you will get slightly less flesh since the fruit is smaller (but definitely sweeter much more flavourful).
  2. Sugar, as little or as much as you please. Start with 1/3 cup maybe?
  3. Cornstarch, 1-2 tablespoons. 
Of course, you can also make apple pies. Change the fruit and quantity, add ground cinnamon and maybe lemon juice.
For the pastry (makes 10 to 11 RM1-note-sized pies):

  1. 2 cups plain flour
  2. 1 teaspoon salt, because pairing the sweet and tangy filling with the pastry's saltiness is what makes fried fruit pie so yum. Do not skip the salt.
  3. 1/2 cup shortening.
    I don't know which one puts me off more, butter or shortening. But shortening is the secret ingredient here: it is what makes the pastry flaky, easy to handle and just right for frying. (Substitute with butter if you want to use this recipe for baking). However, I always use half butter and half shortening for this pastry -- because shortening, for me, is not food, so I try to substitute it with something else whenever possible (a lot of American recipes, for instance, use shortening for deep frying. *Wrinkles nose*).
    I don't like the taste of butter, plus it's animal fat (Biology ruined a lot of food for me); but shortening, while being vegetable-based, is also solid fat, and is flavourless to boot, which does nothing to mask its raison d'être: to be a type of edible solid fat. At least butter has that distinctive taste that people glorify so often (and which I dislike because it's so dairy).
    So I compromise (or so I convince myself) by using half this and half that. The pastry will be much easier to handle if you use all shortening, though, since shortening stays solid at room temperature, and butter does not, especially in Malaysian room temperature.
    Short story: if you have no issues with shortening, use shortening only.
  4. 1/2 cup cold water.
    The colder the better. I usually put a container of water in the freezer and let it frost for a bit before using. Or just use iced water.
Sorry. I can't list down four ingredients without including some food drama.
Here are the ingredients lists again:

Filling:

  1. One pineapple
  2. Sugar, at least 1/3 cup, increase to taste
  3. Cornstarch, 1-2 tablespoons
Pastry:

  1. 2 cups plain flour
  2. 1 teaspoon salt
  3. 1/2 cup shortening
  4. 1/2 cup very cold water
How to make the filling

Basically, what you do here is simmer the fruit with some sugar, thicken it with cornstarch, et voilà (ay vwah-la)! You have pie filling.

But what's the use of having a blog if I only use one sentence to tell you how to make pie filling?

Hence the process shots.

(1) Peel the pineapple and remove the "eyes". Cut into small pieces. I like my pies to be rather small*, so to avoid any awkward chunks poking from underneath the pastry, make sure the fruit is cut really small, maybe into 1/2 inch cubes. Plus, you can fit in more fruit into the pastry cases if the filling is not overly chunky.


*sometimes I make them shaped like circular curry puffs, that's how small. But mostly I make them rectangular, because I don't want pineapple pies to look like curry puffs, you know? They're supposed to look like the McDonald's ones, not just taste like them.


(2) Dump the fruit into a saucepan and cook it over medium heat until the juice is drawn out (3).
The fruit will shrink as it simmers.

(4) Add sugar and simmer some more, until the liquid is syrupy and the pineapple turns a brighter yellow.


(5) Add cornstarch. Pictured above is the dumb way to add cornstarch. Do not be lazy and heap cornstarch onto the cooking mixture, like I did (I don't know what made me think I could get away with it this time. I had to fish out tiny lumps of cornstarch out of the filling and add more cornstarch properly after that. Probably it was the pressure of having to snap photos of food -- with my mother's phone, because that was the only camera available in the house then -- after every step. I don't know how food bloggers do it. Wipe hands, click click. Stir food, crack egg, wash hands and wipe, click click. Hurriedly puts down the camera so that food does not burn. Deliberately forgets to dilute cornstarch before adding into food. Click click anyway).

What you should do instead is: dilute cornflour in some water, and add that mixture to the fruit. Easy! Sorry there's no picture of me stirring cornflour with water.

(6) Stir until thickened and the liquid is transparent, and the filling is all gooey. If you like more goo, add more water and sugar after adding the cornflour (because you can't be certain just how liquidy the filling will be until the cornflour has thickened).

Cool the filling for a while. To make the pie-making process easier, half-freeze the filling before using, so that the liquid doesn't flow all over the pastry and make sealing the pies a major annoyance. I find it best to freeze the filling when it is still very warm, so the liquid will form fine crystals and become a half-solid slush, perfect for pie-filling, instead of freezing into a huge pineapple iceberg.

How to make the pastry


(1) Salt the flour and give it a good stir.

(2) Add shortening (and butter, if using).


(3) Cut the fat into the flour. I used a pastry cutter (that steel wire contraption in the photos), but before we had one, I used to cut pastry mixes using a knife and a fork.

(4) Keep cutting in the fat until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (5).
For a closer look, click on the images.


(6) and (7) Add cold water and stir the dough.

 
(8) Stir mixture until the dough comes together.

(9)  Knead the dough for just a bit so that the dough forms a rough ball that does not stick to the bowl (10). "Kneading" here simply means pressing the dough with your hands until it loses that shaggy look.


(11) Take out your beautifully half-frozen filling.


(12) Roll out the dough until it's about 1/4 inch-thick. It should be slightly thicker than a karipap case. 
Or roll it to whatever thickness you want, it's your pie.

(13) Cut into rectangles. Again, the size is up to you, but I made pies a sound the size of a RM1 note, so I cut out rectangles that were double the size of a note, because we'll be folding the case in half to enclose the filling:


(14) Dump some filling onto half of the rectangles, taking care not to hit the edges. Sugary liquid will make sealing difficult, so stay clear of the edges.

(15) Slightly wet the edges using a fork dipped in water. Don't drench it, just dab some water so that the pastry edges will be glued together when you seal it.

(16) Bring over the unfilled pastry half to the other to enclose, then gently press the edges to seal. Use the tines or a fork to press the sides and seal it properly. You can now fry the pies, or freeze them for later use. I always freeze them because how many fried fruit pies can you eat in one sitting?


(17) I double-bag and label the pies before freezing.

(18) This is what frozen fruit pie looks like. If you freeze the pies, thaw them out before frying. Don't take them out of the freezer bags before thawing, or else condensation will appear on the pies, and that makes them soggy. Thaw them in the bags, and the water droplets will condense on the plastic bag surface instead.


The fried pineapple pie:
fried, arranged, photographed, Photoshopped.


Look at that flakiness! 
This is like puff pastry without the endless folding, chilling and rolling.
(Now I just need a good Prosperity Burger knockoff recipe. 
How do they make the burger patties so tender?)

Friday, January 11, 2013

And Oxford said No

So Oxford rejected my application. The letter came through my e-mail last night.

Alhamdulillah, I am not at all disappointed. In fact I'm glad that they're letting me know about the outcome this soon so I can eliminate one possibility from Plan Land and move on with other options.

I'm still a pragmatic ray of sunshine, thank you Allah!

Here's how an Oxford rejection letter looks like. Rather like a sample letter for one of those Language for Occupational Purposes (LOP) exercises:


I'm raring to write more but I think I'd like to sleep first. Last night modern Southeast Asia kept me away from Dreamland.

As always, make du'a for me o readers of firm faith!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

(a) Studying history in UIA, and (b) would you like to see my exam questions?

Exams

I like exams. They make me think about questions that I usually have asked myself at some point or other.

Or, if I haven't, seeing "new" questions when I flip the question paper to the right side [when the Chief Invigilator announces, "You may begin writing"] will put my brain into a happy, excited "ooh I've never thought of that!" frenzy and I honestly enjoy myself when that happens. If you feel the same way about exams, we can be friends.

In other words, exams are a very real self-development tool for me. Or, I just like them. Okay?

Exams also force me to give solid answers to those questions in 2 hours -- which is not a problem if only I don't have to write down those answers.

What I do

When I tell people I'm a history student, one of the FAQs I get is: "So what do you learn?"

The next question will almost always be, "So does that mean you study Islamic history?"

Yes, Islamic history is a major part of our studies, but it doesn't end there. The truth is, like in any other university, the History & Civilization department of UIA offers courses based on who's available to teach. Some lecturers specialize in Southeast Asian history, some in contemporary Middle East studies, some in archeology (and ancient history), some in Islamic history, some in the Medieval period, and others in Sub-Saharan Africa...or some other region or period, you get my drift.

However, after three-and-a-half years here, I feel/have come to the conclusion that our history courses are very Ummah-centric. There is a lot of focus on the Islamic civilization and the Muslim ummah -- I'll blog about this another time inshaAllah. Or else this post will go on and on and on -- and I think that's the way that it should be, since we're UIA, and the "Islamic worldview" is what UIA offers across all its courses, and is what makes it different from other universities.

We learn Islamic history in its many phases (Rise and Spread of Islam until 132 AH, Abbasid History, Osmanli History, Ayyubids and Mamluks, Muslim Nations in Contemporary History -- and these are just the basics), and then we study the Islamic civilization -- our degree is about History AND civilization, remember? -- but sometimes I still forget the year the Umayyads fell to the Abbasids. And when I do recall a  date (750), I forget whether it's AH or CE, only to remember moments later that 750 CE doesn't make sense [so I'm not totally hopeless Dieu merci!]. And I still can't remember who succeeded who (was it Al-Amin or Al-Ma'mun after Harun Al-Rashid?) and I'm not particularly keen on the battles, even the major ones. *History Student Problems*

Lesson #1 from my degree: I still have A LOT to learn OR what I studied in my undergraduate years was nothing so let's just get to the specialization part where I can re-discover how frightfully inadequate and ignorant I am in just one, tiny branch of historical studies (instead of undergrad study, which reminds me daily how frightfully inadequate and ignorant I am in everything else in history, too).

Questions! *rubbing hands in glee*

So to illustrate (a fraction of) what we study, here's a list of the questions I've had to answer in the five papers I've sat for so far (two more, then game over!):

  1. Discuss the short-term and long-term causes of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
  2. Describe the role of two major Zionist lobbies in influencing the US policy towards Israel.
  3. "The coverage of Islam in the Western media has been inundated with stereotypes. These stereotypes are repugnant to reason and justice" (Merican, 2005, p. 117). Comment on this statement with especial reference to the role of a prominent Islamophobe.
  4. Who was Snouck Hurgronje? Discuss his role in the formulation of Dutch policy on Islam in the Netherland East Indies.
  5. Analyze the factors that gave rise to the Islamic resurgence in Malaysia in the 1980s and its consequences.
  6. Assess the development of science and technology in the early Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations.
  7. Discuss the legacy of prophets in Hebrew history.
  8. How did the Islamic civilization integrate various nations and tribes?
  9. Analyze the impact of Islamic civilization on the West.
  10. Discuss the role of Muhtasib in shaping Muslim society.
  11. Write notes on the following: (i) The concept of Khilafah (ii) The concept of Shura (iii) Al-Jizyah (iv) Kufic and Cursive scripts (v) The role of Mutawwifun in hajj (vi) Pesantren al-Zaytun (vii) Persatuan Ulama Seluruh Aceh (PUSA) (viii) Tengku Mahmud Mahyiddeen (ix) Tripoli Agreement [1976] (x) The Mujahidin Revolt in Arakan [1948-54]
  12. Discuss the role of the Tecumseh Confederacy (1811-1813) in the British-American War.
  13. Evaluate Thomas Jefferson's views on slavery, religion and politics.
  14. Describe the role of the Confederate Guerrilla during the American Civil War.
(Gotta love the mental time traveling and globe-trotting we do while learning history!)

For me, these questions resemble the questions people ask me about history and issues related to history. They remind me why I'm here in the first place: to understand today through the past (also, to study a field that necessitates the knowledge of multiple languages).

How is that not relevant to my personal and social (if not intellectual) life?

I love exams, I do.